The World of Possible What-Ifs: Exploring the Limitless Potential for Digital Twin Technology

In the previous three episodes, Source De[Code] host Ben Coffin explored artificial intelligence technology and how it is used in a variety of settings to enable technologists to accelerate breakthroughs in innovation. These three episodes laid the foundation for the next deep dive topic explored in the podcast-- digital twins. To kick off this exploration in episode 4, Ben talks to Dr. Rajive Bagrodia, Chief Technologist for Digital Twins at Keysight about the endless possibilities that this emerging technology represents.

Digital Twins: Space Age Innovation

The adage "necessity is the mother of invention" could be used to describe how many new technologies were invented, but few so dramatically as digital twins. During the space race, scientists were called on to develop vehicles and research tools that could withstand the frontiers of space. At NASA, scientists needed a way to observe how the space exploration tools they were designing would operate in their intended environments. They needed to ensure that these items would work as anticipated because once they left Earth's atmosphere, the opportunity for repairs and issue correction would leave with them. Digital twins gave NASA scientists the ability to simulate these remote environments and observe how designs would work in an array of different scenarios, allowing them to correct for issues they would not have even considered without them.

It's easy to think of digital twins as simulation models if your primary exposure to the concept is from popular fiction, but they are so much more. "The reason they are called digital twins," explains Dr. Bagrodia, "is the fact that the model can be a living object that can learn, gather information from the physical environment, update its state, and -- in some sense-- stay synchronized with the state of the corresponding physical object."

In the podcast, Ben and Dr. Bagrodia discuss the significance of digital twins in analyzing cyber resilience. By using digital twins, you can subject networks to a wide variety of cyber-attacks and security risk events to see how they will perform and reconfigure networks to mitigate the impacts of potential attack. For both NASA and network security, the importance of digital twins cannot be overstated. Subjecting physical networks or devices to these types of events is impractical, but without some way to test their resilience and identify red flag indicators of potential threat, the teams responsible for designing and maintaining these systems are working blind.

Digital Twins Fuel Digital Transformation

When my children were young, they were obsessed with electrical circuit board kids, and would spend countless hours building out increasingly complex circuits to power a corresponding number of fans, lights, sounds, and more. As a parent, I am eternally grateful to the developers of these STEM kits because they game me hours of quiet time to tackle the mounting and endless tasks that sat in various states of completion around my house. My productive peace would be broken when my childrens' ambitious plans for their circuit board would be derailed when one or the other child would bump the board, add something new, or try to move an existing pathway on the board. As they sat arguing and assigning blame for the failure, my kids would be dismantling their creation piece by piece until they found and fixed the issue.

Design and interoperability complexities have much higher stakes in the real world. Today's tech stacks are complex and their comprising individual components work together in a delicate harmony. Adding, updating, or changing any one piece can have a cascading affect on the entire system. Like my children fighting as they dismantled their circuit boards to find the root cause of an issue, making changes to a physical network can be risky if you don't know how new components will impact the overall ecosystem.

With digital twins, "you can experiment in a far more aggressive manner than physical networks," explains Dr. Bagrodia. Digital twins are well suited to strengthening cyber resilience and mitigating another potential vulnerability inherent in modern technology: complexity.

Across the design, test, and validation lifecycle, digital twins can help anticipate interoperability issues, determine if enhancements will have the necessary impact to support applications, and predict how a physical system will perform under any number of conditions. You can even observe how they will perform with future technologies which, given the speed at which technology is evolving, is an increasingly critical function. This ability to anticipate and mitigate impacts will be pivotal for designing, optimizing, and securing the spectrum of technology from small consumer electronics all the way up to connected smart cities.

Their ability to predict behaviors based on given sets of criteria is quickly making digital twins one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox. Soon, with assistance from digital twins, the question "what if" may replace necessity as the mother of invention.

Guest Profile: Dr. Rajive Bagrodia

Dr. Bagrodia earned his PhD in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin. During his tenure as Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Dr. Bagrodia amassed an expansive library of published works on high performance computing, wireless networking, and parallel simulation. In addition, he founded SCALABLE Network Technologies which provides network digital twin modeling and simulation solutions for military, governmental, commercial, and academic institutions.

What was the 'aha' moment that started you down the path or influenced your journey to where you are now?

I started my career as a Professor of Computer Science at UCLA and, under DARPA funding, we invented a parallel simulation technology that was significantly ahead of commercial alternatives available then. Also, I guess I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur from a fairly young age, so the opportunity and my desire came together. I would not say there was a single 'aha' moment that let me to this point, but, in some ways, I always planned to end up here.

If you hadn't chosen your current profession, what would you have pursued instead? Why?

I suppose I would have stayed a Professor of Computer Science. I thoroughly enjoyed both the teaching and research aspects of being a professor- you are forced to learn constantly. Unlike, let's say, teaching Physics, where the basic laws of nature have stayed immutable over centuries, in Computer Science, the pace of innovation and change are so rapid that even at the undergraduate level, many courses need to be revamped every few years. And of course at the graduate level, the students get smarter and younger, and one is also competing with major advances by leading tech companies. So pushing to maintain one's own intellectual edge almost becomes second nature.

Where can we find you when you're not innovating the future of technology?

We have always enjoyed travel, but more recently I got certified as an open water scuba diver. So, I plan to spend time diving in the warmer waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. I am also a brand-new grandfather, which is a bit like being a professor-- you get to enjoy the fruits of your students' (or childrends') hard work!

Listen to Source De[Code] Today

You can catch episode 4, The Digital Twin Network of Tomorrow, and all other episodes of Source De[Code] on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to fine podcasts. Visit Source De[Code] online for more information about the show, its host and guests, or to join the Source De[Code] mailing list.